Communication Proxemics
Laura Guerrero, Christina Fleuriet
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 September 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 August 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0168


Proxemics refers to the perception, use, and structuring of space as communication. The study of proxemics is multidisciplinary, with scholars in fields such as anthropology, architecture, communication, linguistics, psychology, and sociology, among other fields, all making important contributions. The multidisciplinary nature of research on proxemics is appropriate given that space is a ubiquitous part of most human interaction. Space is not only physical, as reflected in the amount of space between people or in the layout of a room and the arrangement of furniture; it is also psychological, with people from different social and cultural groups perceiving and using space differently. The literature reflects the ubiquitous nature of proxemics by focusing on how space functions in different contexts. Early work on proxemics often focused on how culture or the environment shape proxemic communication. From the literature in these areas emerged concepts such as personal space, interpersonal distancing, territory, and crowding. Scholars have also examined how proxemics functions in interpersonal relationships, small groups, and computer-mediated communication, and how it is used to send messages related to persuasion and social support.

General Overviews

There are several excellent sources for general information on proxemic communication. Going back to some of the seminal works that helped launch the study of proxemics can provide insight into the reasons why proxemics was first deemed an essential part of human communication. Textbooks provide easy access to summaries of both classic and contemporary work on proxemics.

Foundational Texts

The field of nonverbal communication, and the study of proxemics specifically, was launched by Hall 1973 and Hall 1990, examining cultural differences in communication using space and time. These groundbreaking works give insight into the way scholars first thought about proxemics, especially as related to culture. The other works referenced in this section also shaped the study of proxemics in important ways. Altman 1975 ties proxemics concepts such as personal space and crowding to environmental features, and Ciolek 1983 provides a much needed lexicon that helps scholars across disciplines use similar terms when describing proxemics concepts.

  • Altman, Irwin. 1975. The environment and social behavior: Privacy, personal space, territory, crowding. Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole.

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    In this seminal book, the author presents a comprehensive analysis that ties together many concepts related to proxemics, including crowding, personal space, privacy, and territory, while also considering environmental features related to each of these concepts. One of the most famous contributions of this book is the demarcation of territory into primary, secondary, and public spaces.

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    • Ciolek, T. M. 1983. The proxemics lexicon: A first approximation. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior 8:55–79.

      DOI: 10.1007/BF00986330Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      The author presents a lexicon of 140 terms related to proxemic communication, such as territory, spacing, jurisdiction, and o-space. This lexicon is useful in promoting consistency in term usage across different disciplines.

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      • Hall, Edward T. 1973. The silent language. Garden City, NY: Anchor/Doubleday.

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        First published in 1959, this foundational book set the stage for later research on proxemics. In this work, Hall makes a strong case for the study of intercultural as well as nonverbal communication. A significant portion of the book focuses on proxemics and chronemics as silent languages that differ based on culture, and impact communication in a variety of ways.

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        • Hall, Edward T. 1990. The hidden dimension. 2d ed. New York: Anchor.

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          This follow-up to The Silent Language, first published in 1966, promotes proxemics as an area of academic study that encompasses cultural conceptions of space, environmental features, and conversational distancing. Perhaps most notably, Hall proposes four perceptual categories of conversational distance: intimate (0 to 18 inches), personal (15 inches to 4 feet), social (4 to 12 feet), and public (more than 12 feet) in North American culture, and environmental features are classified as fixed or semi-fixed.

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          Most textbooks on nonverbal communication include chapters that are devoted to proxemic communication or to the combination of proxemics and haptics (or touch behavior), which are sometimes referred to as the contact codes. As such, these books can be good resources for those looking for summaries of research on proxemics. Burgoon, et al. 2010 is the latest version in a series of nonverbal textbooks authored by Judee Burgoon and her colleagues. This series of books is known for its highly comprehensive nature. Knapp, et al. 2014, written by a communication scholar and two socialpsychologists, has a long history and a strong interdisciplinary appeal. Like the other two textbooks, Andersen 2007 takes a functional approach to nonverbal communication.

          • Andersen, Peter. 2007. Nonverbal communication: Forms and functions. 2d ed. Long Grove, IL: Waveland.

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            This introductory textbook includes a chapter on proxemics that provides a good overview of the field.

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            • Burgoon, Judee K., Laura K. Guerrero, and Kory Floyd. 2010. Nonverbal communication. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

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              This upper-division/graduate level textbook includes a chapter on contact codes (proxemics and haptics) that provides a comprehensive summary of the research on proxemics as related to human communication.

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              • Knapp, Mark L., Judith A. Hall, and Terrance G. Horgan. 2014. Nonverbal communication in human interaction. 8th ed. Boston: Wadsworth.

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                This popular text book has a separate chapter that covers territory, personal space, conversational distance, and seating behavior and spatial arrangements in small groups. The chapter also includes information on how personality and relationship characteristics is related to some of these concepts.

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                Cultural and Co-cultural Differences

                Since Edward Hall’s books The Silent Language and The Hidden Dimension (Hall 1973 and Hall 1990 cited under Foundational Texts) provided the foundation for early work on proxemics, it is not surprising that a considerable amount of research on proxemics has focused on cultural and co-cultural differences in proxemic behavior. Much of this research was based on the idea that proxemic norms are learned and that cultures can be classified as noncontact versus contact based how much people touch and how closely they sit or stand to one another. Later researchers broadened the concept of noncontact versus contact cultures to consider that cultures vary on a number of immediacy cues (e.g., eye contact, vocal animation, forward lean) rather than just touch and proxemic distancing. Nonetheless, most research on cultural and co-cultural differences in proxemic behavior has focused on distancing and touch.

                Cultural Differences

                Researchers looking at cultural differences typically compare people from different countries to test Hall’s hypotheses regarding low and high contact cultures (see Hall 1990 cited under Foundational Texts). Remland, et al. 1991 shows that research in this area is somewhat mixed, although studies like Aiello and Jones 1981, Beaulieu 2004, and Sussman and Rosenfeld 1982 find clear support for Hall’s distinctions. Ozdemir 2008 also shows that both culture and sex have main effects on interpersonal distancing in contexts such as shopping malls. Remland, et al. 1995 shows that age and culture interact to affect body orientation (or the extent to which people orient their bodies toward one another).

                • Aiello, John R., and Stanley E. Jones. 1981. Field study of the proxemic behavior of young school children in three subcultural groups. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 19:351–356.

                  DOI: 10.1037/h0031433Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                  Shows that young children (ages 6–8 years old) engage in different proxemic behaviors. White children stand farther apart than black or Puerto Rican children. Demonstrates that cultural differences in proxemic behavior begin early in childhood, in support of Edward Hall’s ideas.

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                  • Beaulieu, Catherine. 2004. Intercultural study of personal space: A case study. Journal of Applied Social Psychology 34:794–805.

                    DOI: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.2004.tb02571.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                    Findings generally support Hall’s classification of countries (see Hall 1973 and Hall 1990 cited under Foundational Texts) as low and high contact; people from the United Kingdom, the United States, and English Canada use the largest conversational distances, followed by people from Asia, and then people from Austria, France, the Netherlands, and French Canada. People from Latin America and the Mediterranean area use the smallest conversational distances.

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                    • Ozdemir, Aydin. 2008. Shopping malls: Measuring interpersonal distance under changing conditions and across cultures. Field Methods 20:226–248.

                      DOI: 10.1177/1525822X08316605Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                      Unobtrusive observations in four Turkish and US shopping malls were used to determine how interpersonal distances differ according to culture, age, and gender. Results show that Turkish individuals interact at a closer distance than U.S. individuals, and that males use greatest interpersonal distances than females. Additional findings indicate that space enclosure affects interpersonal interactions.

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                      • Remland, Martin S., Tricia S. Jones, and Heidi Brinkman. 1991. Proxemic and haptic communication in three European countries. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior 15:215–232.

                        DOI: 10.1007/BF00986923Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                        Interactions between people from the Netherlands, France, and England were videotaped and analyzed. Dutch dyads use the largest interpersonal distance, which was consistent with Hall’s work on contact versus noncontact cultures (see Hall 1973 and Hall 1990 cited under Foundational Texts), but English dyads use the smallest distances, which is inconsistent with Hall’s work.

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                        • Remland, Martin S., Tricia S. Jones, and Heidi Brinkman. 1995. Interpersonal distance, body orientation, and touch: Effects of culture, gender, and age. Journal of Social Psychology 135:281–297.

                          DOI: 10.1080/00224545.1995.9713958Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                          Researchers utilized observations of interactions in England, France, the Netherlands, Italy, Greece, Scotland, and Ireland to examine influences on interpersonal distance and body orientation. Variables of age and gender interact to explain the differences in body orientation within dyads. Specifically, male dyads tend to maintain more direct body orientation as they age, while mixed-sex dyads maintain less direct orientations. Shows that other factors besides culture impact distancing.

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                          • Sussman, Nan M., and Howard M. Rosenfeld. 1982. Influence of culture, language, and sex on conversational distance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 42:66–74.

                            DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.42.1.66Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                            Researchers observe conversational distances among Japanese, Venezuelan, and American students. Results support Hall’s position that proxemic manifestations differ according to culture (see Hall 1973 and Hall 1990 cited under Foundational Texts). Students from high-contact cultures (Venezuelans) employ closer conversational distances than low-contact cultures (Japanese). Foreign students adopt closer conversational distances when speaking in their native language than they do when speaking English.

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                            Co-cultural Differences

                            Studies examining co-cultural differences (or “subculture”) have compared people’s proxemic patterns and reactions to crowding based on racial or ethnic differences. Bauer 1973 compares African Americans and European Americans, while Baxter 1970 and Evans, et al. 2000 include Mexican Americans or Latin Americans. Jones 1971 compares four cultural areas within New York City: Harlem, Spanish Harlem, Chinatown, and Little Italy. Jones and Aiello 1973 and Scherer 1974 use children as subjects, in part to try to determine if co-cultural differences are learned early in life.

                            • Bauer, Ernest A. 1973. Personal space: A study of blacks and whites. Sociometry 36:402–408.

                              DOI: 10.2307/2786341Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                              Examines how personal space distances differ when individuals are approached by members of their same race and sex. White individuals choose significantly greater distances than do black participants, which may be attributed to different cultural cues or different interpretations of study instructions.

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                              • Baxter, James C. 1970. Interpersonal spacing in natural settings. Sociometry 33:444–456.

                                DOI: 10.2307/2786318Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                Pairs of individuals, observed in both indoor and outdoor settings, differ according to sex, age, and ethnicity. Patterns of spacing confirm expectations regarding sex, age, and ethnicity. Results of personal spacing provide implications for both interpersonal interaction and environmental effects.

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                                • Evans, Gary W., Stephen J. Lepore, and Karen M. Allen. 2000. Cross-cultural differences in tolerance for crowding: Fact or fiction? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 79:204–210.

                                  DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.79.2.204Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                  Examined possible cultural differences in reactions to high-density housing. Asian Americans and Latin Americans perceived crowding differently than Anglo-Americans and African Americans, but all four groups felt distress as a result of living in densely populated housing.

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                                  • Jones, Stanley E. 1971. A comparative proxemics analysis of dyadic interaction in selected subcultures of New York City. Journal of Social Psychology 84:35–44.

                                    DOI: 10.1080/00224545.1971.9918518Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                    Two observational studies of subcultures in New York City test Hall’s hypothesis that cultures differ in spatial orientation behavior (see Hall 1973, Hall 1990 cited under Foundational Texts). Contrary to Hall’s hypothesis, there are no significant differences among cultural areas with regard to distance and axis measurements; however, women are more direct in shoulder orientation than men, regardless of subculture.

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                                    • Jones, Stanley E., and John R. Aiello. 1973. Proxemic behavior of black and white first-, third-, and fifth-grade children. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 25:21–27.

                                      DOI: 10.1037/h0034267Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                      Children in these three grade levels are observed. Black children stand closer than white children, but white children face one another more directly. The latter difference is strongest in first grade and disappears by fifth grade. Across all grade levels, both black and white girls use more direct facing than boys.

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                                      • Scherer, Shawn E. 1974. Proxemic behavior of primary school children as a function of their socioeconomic class and subculture. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 29:800–805.

                                        DOI: 10.1037/h0036190Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                        Researchers conducted two field studies to examine interaction distances among primary school children who differ in subculture and socioeconomic status. Lower-class children are found to converse at closer distances than middle-class children. Results show no differences in distance between black and white subcultures, regardless of socioeconomic status, contradicting Hall’s notion that cross-cultural groups display differential proxemic behavior (see Hall 1973, Hall 1990 cited under Foundational Texts).

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                                        Personal Space and Spatial Violations

                                        Personal space is a popular concept in the literature on proxemics. According to theory, people carry a personal space bubble around with them. They expect other people to respect this space. Researchers have examined how personal space changes, how people protect the personal space around them, and how they react when that space is violated.

                                        Personal Space

                                        Personal space is a concept that is mentioned in nearly every scholarly book and textbook written about proxemics. As such, many studies have been conducted on concepts related to personal space. The early studies in this area are reviewed in Evans and Howard 1973 and Hayduk 1983. Studies such as Wormith 1984 and Stratton, et al. 1973 show that people with poor self-images tend to require more personal space. Newer innovative studies examine proxemics in different contexts; Kenner and Katsimaglis 1993 looks at taxis and seat choices, while Tajadura-Jiménez, et al. 2011 studies the effects of the types of music people are listening to on their headphones.

                                        • Evans, Gary W., and Roger B. Howard. 1973. Personal space. Psychological Bulletin 80:334–344.

                                          DOI: 10.1037/h0034946Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                          Provides a thorough review of major findings of personal space research across multiple disciplines. Authors note that there is a lack of consistent findings in this area of research, and suggest that alternate methodologies be used in future studies. Theoretical development in the area of personal space research is discussed.

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                                          • Hayduk, Leslie A. 1983. Personal space: Where we now stand. Psychological Bulletin 94:293–335.

                                            DOI: 10.1037/0033-2909.94.2.293Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                            Provides a summary of the use of measurement strategies, sex effects, and cultural differences in personal space research over the span of about a decade. The authors pose several redirections in the study of personal space, and they challenge some of the theoretical underpinnings of this research. They also provide suggestions for theoretical change.

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                                            • Kenner, Andrew N., and George Katsimaglis. 1993. Gender differences in proxemics: Taxi-seat choice. Psychological Reports 72:625–626.

                                              DOI: 10.2466/pr0.1993.72.2.625Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                              Authors of this study conducted in Australia show that adult males tend to sit in the front next to a male taxi driver, whereas adult females prefer the back-left seat. Children under 10 sit in the back-center seat or the back-right seat next to the adult accompanying them.

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                                              • Stratton, Lois O., Dennis J. Tekippe, and Grad L. Flick. 1973. Personal space and self-concept. Sociometry 3:424–429.

                                                DOI: 10.2307/2786344Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                Compares the interpersonal distancing used by college students who have high self-concepts, moderate self-concepts, and low self-concepts. Those with high self-concepts use the least personal space, whereas those with low self-concepts use the most personal space.

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                                                • Tajadura-Jiménez, Ana, Galini Pantelidou, Pawel Rebacz, Daniel Västfjäll, and Manos Tsakiris. 2011. I-space: The effects of emotional valence and source of music on interpersonal distance. PLoS One 6:e26083.

                                                  DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0026083Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                  This is the first study in which researchers looked at how listening to music on headphones in a crowded area affects how people present their personal space. Those listening to positive emotion-inducing music communicate that they need less personal space and are more approachable than those listening to negative emotion-inducing music, suggesting that subtle nonverbal cues affect how observers view a person’s personal space.

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                                                  • Wormith, J. S. 1984. Personal space of incarcerated offenders. Journal of Clinical Psychology 40:815–827.

                                                    DOI: 10.1002/1097-4679(198405)40:3<815::AID-JCLP2270400332>3.0.CO;2-GSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                    Researchers conducted this study to assess the attributes of offenders’ personal space using the stop-distance behavioral technique procedure. Results support the assumption that small personal space and shrinking personal space are indicative of positive personal attributes such as psychological stability. Additionally, personal space tends to serve a protective function for inmates, where inmates with a poorer self-image possess larger personal spaces.

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                                                    Personal Space Violations

                                                    Early research on personal space violations, including crowding in on someone, predicted that there are always aversive effects associated with such invasions. Some studies, such as Greenberg and Firestone 1977, have supported this. However, empirical research in this area shows that this is not always the case. Baron and Bel 1976 finds that spatial invasions can increase helping behavior. Buller 1987 demonstrates that close proxemic distancing can also lead to more compliance. Observations of children in Peery and Crane 1980 suggest that patterns of withdrawing and approaching others based on the level of personal space between people are evident even in children. All of these studies show that people have varying reactions to spatial violations. Theories such as Expectancy Violations Theory also challenge the notion that personal space violations are always evaluated negatively. Finally, Sundstrom and Sundstrom 1977 shows that sex (men versus women) gender interacts with other variables such as whether someone asks permission to invade, and Fisher and Byrne 1975 investigates where the invader sits to predict how people react to spatial invasions.

                                                    • Baron, Robert A., and Paul A. Bel. 1976. Physical distance and helping: Some unexpected benefits of crowding in on others. Journal of Applied Social Psychology 6:95–104.

                                                      DOI: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.1976.tb01316.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                      Contrary to past research showing the negative effects of invading another person’s personal space, the two studies reported in this article demonstrate that people are more likely to help those who invade their space. People tend to perceive such invasions as signaling that the invader has a high need for assistance.

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                                                      • Buller, David B. 1987. Communication apprehension and reactions to proxemic violations. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior 11:13–25.

                                                        DOI: 10.1007/BF00999603Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                        In this experiment, confederates stayed at a normative distance, moved one seat closer, or moved one seat farther away from a participant before requesting his or her signature on a petition. Participants complied most when they were apprehensive or when they experienced a close violation. Researchers note that arousal, not perceptions of the initiator, affect communication.

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                                                        • Fisher, Jeffrey D., and Donn Byrne. 1975. Close for comfort: Sex differences in response to invasions of personal space. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 32:15–21.

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                                                          Examines reactions to spatial invasions using field experiments. Men tended to react most negatively when a stranger sat across from them, whereas women tended to react most negatively when a stranger sat adjacent to them. In a library setting, men sitting alone erected the most barriers when people sat across from them, whereas women erected the most barriers when people sat next to them.

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                                                          • Greenberg, Carl I., and Ira J. Firestone. 1977. Compensatory responses to crowding: Effects of personal space intrusion and privacy reduction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 35:637–644.

                                                            DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.35.9.637Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                            These researchers conducted an experiment following Altman’s model of crowding to test personal space intrusion and privacy reduction (see Altman 1975 cited under Foundational Texts). Results complement other research findings indicating that interpersonal intrusion can instigate perceptions of crowding and stress, and they also support Altman, by explaining how crowding results from unsuccessful attempts to regulate social inputs.

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                                                            • Peery, J. C., and Paul M. Crane. 1980. Personal space regulation: Approach-withdrawal-approach proxemic behavior during adult-preschooler interaction at close range. Journal of Psychology 106:63–75.

                                                              DOI: 10.1080/00223980.1980.9915172Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                              In this study, preschool children were observed in interactions as an adult made a series of approaches and withdrawals. Findings showed an approach-withdrawal-approach pattern of behavior in adult-preschooler dyads and behavior changes within intimate and personal zones. This research, then, gives support to Hall’s zones of interaction (cited under Foundational Texts), and extends this conceptualization to young children.

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                                                              • Sundstrom, Eric, and Mary G. Sundstrom. 1977. Personal space invasions: What happens when the invader asks permission? Environmental Psychology and Nonverbal Behavior 2:76–82.

                                                                DOI: 10.1007/BF01145823Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                Experimental methodology was used to test how people reacted to the invasion of personal space by a same-sex confederate who either asked permission to sit down or sat down without saying anything. Men left more quickly if the confederate was silent, whereas women left more quickly if the confederate asked permission. People who stayed also showed compensation behaviors.

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                                                                Interpersonal Distancing

                                                                In addition to looking at personal space and reactions to spatial violations, researchers have examined the amount of distance between people during social interaction. This has been termed interpersonal distance or conversational distance.

                                                                Individual Differences in Interpersonal Distancing

                                                                Studies have tried to uncover the factors that cause variation in interpersonal distancing, including sex, covered in Elliot and Cohen 1981 and Uzzell and Horne 2006, and status, treated in Aliakbari, et al. 2011; Gifford 1982; and Jorgenson 1975.

                                                                • Aliakbari, Mohammad, Elham Faraji, and Parnaz Pourshakibaee. 2011. Investigation of the proxemic behavior of Iranian professors and university students: Effects of gender and status. Journal of Pragmatics 43:1392–1402.

                                                                  DOI: 10.1016/j.pragma.2010.10.021Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                  Researchers used observational techniques to show that physical distances between university professors and students differ according to sex (female versus male) and status (high versus low). Results indicated that proxemic behaviors remained fairly consistent regardless of status. Yet physical distance of lower status individuals significantly differed during interactions with high status individuals.

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                                                                  • Elliot, Elaine S., and Jerry L. Cohen. 1981. Social facilitation effects via interpersonal distance. Journal of Social Psychology 114:237–249.

                                                                    DOI: 10.1080/00224545.1981.9922753Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                    Researchers used an experimental design to examine how men and women react to close, moderate, and far interpersonal distances by female confederates. Men had more positive reactions in the moderate condition, whereas women had more positive reactions in the close and far conditions.

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                                                                    • Gifford, Robert. 1982. Projected interpersonal distance and orientation choices: Personality, sex, and social situation. Social Psychology Quarterly 45:145–152.

                                                                      DOI: 10.2307/3033647Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                      Results show that attraction toward the other and cooperation are the strongest influences on different choices of interpersonal distances. Smaller interpersonal distances are chosen by participants when they are attracted to the other person, when status is equal, when the activity is cooperative, and when the other person is an attractive female.

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                                                                      • Jorgenson, Dale O. 1975. Field study of the relationship between status discrepancy and proxemic behavior. Journal of Social Psychology 97:173–179.

                                                                        DOI: 10.1080/00224545.1975.9923337Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                        Researchers examined the status, angle of orientation, and distance between pairs of male employees in a field study at a utility firm. Equivalent status pairs had significantly more direct angles of orientation than discrepant status pairs, yet equivalent status pairs failed to stand at a closer distance. The latter finding is contrary to previous studies.

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                                                                        • Uzzell, David, and Nathalie Horne. 2006. The influence of biological sex, sexuality, and gender role on interpersonal distance. British Journal of Social Psychology 45:579–597.

                                                                          DOI: 10.1348/014466605X58384Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                          Researchers utilized novel methodology to examine interpersonal distance through employment of the Digital Video Recording Interpersonal Distance Method (DiVRDM) and distinct operationalization of sex, gender role, and gender identity. Results challenge findings of previous research by demonstrating that gender accounts for more of the variance in interpersonal distance than the traditionally reported variable of biological sex.

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                                                                          Interpersonal Distancing in Relationships

                                                                          It seems common sense to believe that people who share close relationships stand closer to one another than people who are less close. This is one of the cornerstones of Hall 1990 (cited under Foundational Texts), an early work on proxemic zones—the closer people are, they more likely they are to interact in the intimate zone—as well as the social meaning model proposed by Burgoon 1991. Researchers have investigated how interpersonal distancing is associated with variables such as satisfaction, described in Crane, et al. 1987, and attraction or similarity, investigated in Byrne, et al. 1970, Snyder and Endelman 1979, and Sundstrom, et al. 1976, as well as how it functions in various types of relationships, explored in Guerrero 1997.

                                                                          • Burgoon, Judee K. 1991. Relational message interpretations of touch, conversational distance, and posture. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior 15:233–259.

                                                                            DOI: 10.1007/BF00986924Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                            In this experiment, the researcher tested the presumption of the social meaning model that many nonverbal behaviors have consensually recognized meanings. Results showed that close proximity conveyed immediacy, similarity, and dominance. Gender initiator attractiveness was indicated as a more influential mediator between proximity and message interpretations than was status.

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                                                                            • Byrne, Donn, Ervin R. Charles, and John Lamberth. 1970. Continuity between the experimental study of attraction and real-life computer dating. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 16:157–165.

                                                                              DOI: 10.1037/h0029836Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                              One of the first studies to empirically validate a link between attraction and close interpersonal distancing. Both physical attraction and similarity led people to stand closer to someone after a date.

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                                                                              • Crane, D. Russell, David C. Dollahite, William Griffin, and Vincent L. Taylor. 1987. Diagnosing relationships with spatial distance: An empirical test of a clinical principle. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy 13:307–310.

                                                                                DOI: 10.1111/j.1752-0606.1987.tb00709.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                Examines how spatial relationships in marriages can be used as a diagnostic tool in family therapy. Spatial distancing can help identify distressed versus satisfied couples, particularly for men.

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                                                                                • Guerrero, Laura K. 1997. Nonverbal involvement across interactions with same-sex friends, opposite-sex friends, and romantic partners: Consistency or change? Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 14:31–58.

                                                                                  DOI: 10.1177/0265407597141002Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                  A partial round robin design was used to see if individuals’ nonverbal behavior, including interpersonal distancing, is similar or different when interacting with a same-sex friend, an opposite-sex friend, and a romantic partner. Although distancing was correlated across the three relationship types, people sat closer to romantic partners than either same- or opposite-sex friends. This shows that people’s proxemic behavior is somewhat consistent but varies based on the interactional partner.

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                                                                                  • Snyder, C. R., and Janet R. Endelman. 1979. Effects of degree of interpersonal similarity on physical distance and self‐reported attraction: A comparison of uniqueness and reinforcement theory predictions. Journal of Personality 47:492–505.

                                                                                    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.1979.tb00628.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                    Researchers gathered data to further examine the contradictory findings of similarity attraction and the reinforcement theory. Manipulation of similarity between participants was used to determine differences in interpersonal distances. Results showed a curvilinear relationship between distance and similarity, such that participants who were moderately similar chose the closest interaction distances. The popular notion that “birds of a feather flock together” was not behaviorally supported by these researchers’ findings.

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                                                                                    • Sundstrom, Eric, and Irwin Altman. 1976. Interpersonal relationships and personal space: Research review and theoretical model. Human Ecology 4:47–67.

                                                                                      DOI: 10.1007/BF01531456Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                      Helpful summary of early research on reactions to spatial invasions and the role that interpersonal distance plays in attraction and relationships. A model is presented that ties these areas of research together by proposing that different dyads have different optimal levels of interpersonal distancing based on relational and situational variables.

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                                                                                      Interpersonal Distancing in Other Contexts

                                                                                      Researchers have also looked at interpersonal distancing in a variety of other contexts. Specifically, Li and Li 2007 examines interpersonal distancing near automated teller machines. Other scholars have identified factors that affect distancing in certain populations. For example, Webb and Weber 2003 focuses on the elderly, and Ugwuegbu and Anusiem 1982 examines proxemics in interviews with Nigerian boys and girls. Finally, Worchel 1986 looks at how situational factors influence interpersonal distancing.

                                                                                      • Li, Shu, and Yan-Mi Li. 2007. How far is far enough? A measure of information privacy in terms of interpersonal distance. Environment and Behavior 39:317–331.

                                                                                        DOI: 10.1177/0013916506290956Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                        Researchers examined differences in how far people stand apart at automatic teller machines (ATMs), add value machines (AVMs), and ticket vending machines (TVMs). Interpersonal distance was largest for ATM users and smallest for TVM users. The authors suggest that this is because the most private information is processed by ATMs, and the least private information is processed by TVMs.

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                                                                                        • Ugwuegbu, Denis C., and A. U. Anusiem. 1982. Effects of stress on interpersonal distance in a simulated interview situation. Journal of Social Psychology 116:3–7.

                                                                                          DOI: 10.1080/00224545.1982.9924390Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                          Authors provide a cross-cultural replication of research showing that in Western cultures stress influences conversational distancing. In this study, Nigerian boys and girls sat farther away from an interviewer to the extent that they were experiencing stress.

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                                                                                          • Webb, Jennifer D., and Margaret J. Weber. 2003. Influence of sensory abilities on the interpersonal distance of the elderly. Environment and Behavior 35:695–711.

                                                                                            DOI: 10.1177/0013916503251473Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                            The strongest findings in regard to proxemics were that elderly individuals prefer larger interpersonal distances to the extent that their mobility has decreased, which could reflect the desire to be able to get away from someone if necessary. Age was also associated with distance preferences such that older individuals preferred larger interpersonal distances.

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                                                                                            • Worchel, Stephen. 1986. The influence of contextual variables on interpersonal spacing. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior 10:230–254.

                                                                                              DOI: 10.1007/BF00987482Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                              Researchers conducted three studies to examine variables related to interpersonal distance. People chose larger distances if they: (a) had been isolated prior to interaction, (b) thought they were being observed by others, (c) expected a long conversation on a personal topic with a stranger, and (d) were in a large rectangular room.

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                                                                                              Like the research on culture and proxemic behavior, the research on crowding has a long history. Some of the foundational research in this area focuses on the aversive effects that crowding has on animals. Later this research paradigm extends to focus on humans, with many studies examining crowding in college dormitories as well as other contexts.

                                                                                              Animal Studies

                                                                                              Calhoun 1962 and Christian 1961 are the two key studies cited as evidence for the adverse effects of crowding in animal populations. The Calhoun study was a controlled experiment, whereas the Christian work was based on a naturally occurring phenomenon. Yet both produce strong evidence that crowding has negative, even fatal effects, on animals. These studies triggered research to see if these adverse effects would generalize to a human population.

                                                                                              • Calhoun, John B. 1962. Population density and social pathology. Scientific American 206:139–150.

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                                                                                                Found that overcrowding of rats led to a host of destructive behaviors and unhealthy outcomes, such as sexual dysfunction, cannibalism, hyperactivity, vicious attacks, infertility, miscarriages, premature births, and illness.

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                                                                                                • Christian, John J. 1961. Phenomena associated with population density. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 47:428–449.

                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1073/pnas.47.4.428Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                  This landmark study examined the case of the Sika deer. After living in what appeared to be ideal conditions on James Island in the Chesapeake Bay, the deer population increased to the point of extreme crowding; the adrenal glands of the deer became greatly (and often fatally) enlarged.

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                                                                                                  Dormitory Studies

                                                                                                  These studies sought to determine how crowded conditions in dormitories affect students. A variety of negative effects emerged. Among several outcomes, Aiello, et al. 1981 focuses on social tension; Baum, et al. 1978 explores helplessness; and Stokols, et al. 1978 studies poor academic performance,

                                                                                                  • Aiello, John R., Andrew Baum, and Francis P. Gormley. 1981. Social determinants of residential crowding stress. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 7:643–649.

                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1177/014616728174021Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                    College students experience more social tension and negative affect when they are in triple dormitory rooms compared with double dormitory rooms. Women students report more crowding than men students regardless of room type. These findings complement other research showing that crowded living conditions are associated with stress.

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                                                                                                    • Baum, Andrew, John R. Aiello, and Lisa E. Calesnick. 1978. Crowding and personal control: Social density and the development of learned helplessness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 36:1000–1011.

                                                                                                      DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.36.9.1000Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                      In this experiment, some students were assigned to a crowded long-corridor dormitory. After three weeks in this environment, these students were more competitive than those in a short-corridor dormitory, and they tried to re-establish control of their environment. However, after seven weeks, they became passive and displayed signs of helplessness.

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                                                                                                      • Stokols, Daniel, Walter Ohlig, and Susan M. Resnick. 1978. Perception of residential crowding, classroom experiences, and student health. Human Ecology 6:233–252.

                                                                                                        DOI: 10.1007/BF00889025Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                        In addition to feeling more stress and negative affect in crowded environments, college students living in crowded dormitories are ill more often and earn lower grades than students living in more spacious accommodations. This could be due to the discomfort experienced in crowded environments, as well as the greater likelihood of being distracted or catching a contagious virus.

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                                                                                                        Prison Studies

                                                                                                        Studies on the effects of overcrowding in prisons have produced mixed results. Cox, et al. 1984 finds that prison crowding is related to poorer mental and physical health. Gaes and McGuire 1985 links prison crowding to violence. However, a meta-analysis, Franklin, et al. 2006, finds no association between prison crowding and violence. Nonetheless, these findings are important for bringing possible negative effects of crowding in a potentially violent environment to the attention of researchers as well as those who run and design prisons.

                                                                                                        • Cox, Verne C., Paul B. Paulus, and Garvin McCain. 1984. Prison crowding research: The relevance for prison housing standards and a general approach regarding crowding phenomena. American Psychologist 39:1148–1160.

                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1037/0003-066X.39.10.1148Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                          Summarized research showing that crowding in prisons has a host of negative effects on inmates, including illness, elevated blood pressure, increased pathology, anxiety, fear, and frustration.

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                                                                                                          • Franklin, Travis W., Cortney A. Franklin, and Travis C. Pratt. 2006. Examining the empirical relationship between prison crowding and inmate misconduct: A meta-analysis of conflict research results. Journal of Criminal Justice 34:401–412.

                                                                                                            DOI: 10.1016/j.jcrimjus.2006.05.006Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                            Authors of this meta-analysis found that when the results of different studies on prison overcrowding were analyzed together, there was little evidence for a significant association between crowding and increased violence. This finding is counter to previous research and suggests that more research needs to be conducted to determine if, and when, there is a significant relationship between crowding and violence in prisons.

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                                                                                                            • Gaes, Gerald G., and William J. McGuire. 1985. Prison violence: The contribution of crowding versus other determinants of prison assault rates. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 22:41–65.

                                                                                                              DOI: 10.1177/0022427885022001003Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                              This study, in which researchers examined data from nineteen federal prisons, is important because it shows that crowding is a better predictor of assault rates in prisons than several other variables, such as institutional size, inmate demographics, and the criminal histories of inmates.

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                                                                                                              Crowding in Other Contexts

                                                                                                              Research has shown that crowding (and its opposite, spaciousness) affects behavior in a variety of other contexts; Burgess and Fordyce 1989 focuses on classrooms, Eroglu and Machleit 1990 and Machleit, et al. 2000 examine retail environments, and Evans and Wener 2007 studies mass transit. Some situational factors also interact with crowding to produce adverse effects, including warm temperature, as explored in Griffit, et al. 1971, and close interpersonal distancing, described in the Rüstemli 1992 study.

                                                                                                              • Burgess, J., and W. K. Fordyce. 1989. Effects of preschool environments on nonverbal social behavior: Toddlers’ interpersonal distances to teachers and classmates change with environmental density, classroom design, and parent–child interactions. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 30:261–276.

                                                                                                                DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.1989.tb00239.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                When more space is available, preschool children increase their interpersonal distances and form subgroups within the classroom. Shows that spaciousness as well as crowdedness can influence behavior.

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                                                                                                                • Eroglu, Sevgin A., and Karen A. Machleit. 1990. An empirical study of retail crowding: Antecedents and consequences. Journal of Retailing 66:201–221.

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                                                                                                                  Researchers in this study applied the concept of crowding to the applied setting of a retail environment. The authors find that shoppers have a more unpleasant shopping experience if a store is crowded. Has practical implications for sales and marketing.

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                                                                                                                  • Evans, Gary W., and Richard E. Wener. 2007. Crowding and personal space invasion on the train: Please don’t make me sit in the middle. Journal of Environmental Psychology 27:90–94.

                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1016/j.jenvp.2006.10.002Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                    For mass transit users, having to sit especially close to someone leads to aversive reactions, but the overall density of a train car is unrelated to any of the stress indicators that they measured. A dds to the literature showing that people can cope with density in environments better than invasions of personal space.

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                                                                                                                    • Griffit, William, and Russell Veitch. 1971. Hot and crowded: Influence of population density and temperature on interpersonal affective behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 17:92–98.

                                                                                                                      DOI: 10.1037/h0030458Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                      This was one of the first studies showing that crowding and temperature have a joint impact on people. Specifically, the researchers demonstrate that the combination of heat and crowding impedes social interaction and makes it more likely that people will dislike one another and act aggressively.

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                                                                                                                      • Machleit, Karen A., Sevgin A. Eroglu, and Susan P. Mantel. 2000. Perceived retail crowding and shopping satisfaction: What modifies this relationship? Journal of Consumer Psychology 9:29–42.

                                                                                                                        DOI: 10.1207/s15327663jcp0901_3Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                        Researchers in this study clarify an earlier work, Eroglu and Machleit 1990, by showing that spatial crowding, rather than social crowding, is related to an unpleasant shopping experience. Spatial crowding occurs when environmental elements such as clothing racks and narrow lanes make a shopper feel crowded. Social crowding refers to the number of people in the environment.

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                                                                                                                        • Rüstemli, Ahmet. 1992. Crowding effects of density and interpersonal distance. Journal of Social Psychology 132:51–58.

                                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1080/00224545.1992.9924687Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                          This study of Turkish teenagers shows that close interpersonal distancing leads to perceptions of crowding more than density does. People also tolerate closer interpersonal distancing with friends than with strangers. Adds to the literature showing that density is not as aversive as perceived crowding.

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                                                                                                                          • Tripathi, Hargovind G. R., and S. R. Tripathi. 2005. Spatial and non-spatial influences on crowding stress. Psychological Studies 50:317–321.

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                                                                                                                            The authors of these two studies examine anticipated and experienced levels of crowding stress on young adults in various social situations. Findings indicate similar levels of stress across experienced crowding and anticipated real life crowding scenarios. Results of this study also lend support to the moderating role of arousal in stressful situations.

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                                                                                                                            Sommer 1966 is an early review of the literature on spatial relations, including information on territory and density, which provides a launching pad for later research. Shortly thereafter, researchers began identifying different types of territories and examining how people proactively and reactively protect their territory. For example, Lyman and Scott 1967 identifies four broad types of territory—body, home, interactional, and public; Goffman 1972 identifies several types of body territory. Other early research on territoriality, especially in the field of anthropology, focuses on similarities and differences between territoriality in humans versus other animals, as in the works of Edney 1976 and Vine 1975. Hediger 1961 also focuses on territoriality among primates. Patterson 1978 is important in connecting territoriality to crime, and Vinsel, et al. 1980 is important in connecting territoriality to privacy regulation.

                                                                                                                            • Edney, Julian J. 1976. Human territories: Comment on functional properties. Environment and Behavior 8:31–47.

                                                                                                                              DOI: 10.1177/001391657600800103Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                              This discussion provides insight into the importance of territoriality in organizing human life and behavior through first examining the behavior of animal communities. The author concludes that territoriality organizes behavior through the community, through the small group and dyad, and through the individual.

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                                                                                                                              • Goffman, Erving. 1972. Relations in public. New York: Harper & Row.

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                                                                                                                                This book includes thinking about personal space and territory, which laid a foundation for later research. The author delineates several body territories and discusses how environmental elements influence space and territory.

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                                                                                                                                • Hediger, Heini P. 1961. The evolution of territorial behavior. In Social life of early man. Edited by Sherwood L. Washburn, 34–57. Chicago: Aldine.

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                                                                                                                                  The author of this chapter focuses on describing the complex evolution of territoriality and sociability in primates that can only be observed in natural environments. Territoriality is presented as a factor that helps keep social groups together.

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                                                                                                                                  • Lyman, Stanford M., and Marvin B. Scott. 1967. Territoriality: A neglected sociological dimension. Social Problems 15:236–249.

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                                                                                                                                    Authors of this often-cited article discuss four types of territory (body, home, interactional, and public), three types of territorial encroachment (contamination, violation, and invasion), and three responses to territorial encroachment (turf defense, insulation, and linguistic collusion). This work is often credited for launching research on territorial invasion and reactions to space violations.

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                                                                                                                                    • Patterson, Arthur H. 1978. Territorial behavior and fear of crime in the elderly. Environmental Psychology and Nonverbal Behavior 2:131–144.

                                                                                                                                      DOI: 10.1007/BF01145816Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                      Researchers highlight territorial behavior in the context of mastery of the environment in the elderly. Observational data are gathered on the visible territorial markers of elderly homeowners. Findings indicate that high-territorial elderly were less fearful of crime and being victimized than low-territorial elderly. Living arrangement and biological sex are also found to be related to level of territoriality in this elderly population.

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                                                                                                                                      • Sommer, Robert. 1966. Man’s proximate environment. Journal of Social Issues 22:59–70.

                                                                                                                                        DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-4560.1966.tb00549.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                        This foundational review of the literature summarizes behavioral studies in the area of human spatial relations. The author specifically discusses the concepts of territory and density, and the lack of use of ecological and spatial variables in the studies reviewed. Future directions for research in the area of proxemics are posed.

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                                                                                                                                        • Vine, Ian. 1975. Territoriality and the spatial regulation of interaction. In Organization of behavior in fact-to-face interaction. Edited by Adam Kendon, Richard M. Harris, and Mary R. Key, 357–387. Hague: Mouton.

                                                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1515/9783110907643Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                          This chapter provides a comprehensive review of early research on spatial regulation among animals, fixed-feature and semi-fixed space in human territoriality, and the effects of territoriality on human interaction.

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                                                                                                                                          • Vinsel, Anne, Barbara B. Brown, Irwin Altman, and Carolyn Foss. 1980. Privacy regulation, territorial displays, and effectiveness of individual functioning. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 39:1104–1115.

                                                                                                                                            DOI: 10.1037/h0077718Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                            Provides a descriptive analysis of the privacy regulation behaviors of university students. Results indicate that territorial behavior is used to display aspects of individuals’ personal identities. Specifically, use of territory such as wall hangings and other dormitory room decorations, serve as markers of participant personalities, interests, and values.

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                                                                                                                                            The Environment

                                                                                                                                            The way the environment is structured has an impact on personal space as well as privacy. The work in this area, which includes the two classic books, Newman 1972 and Sommer 1969, has both theoretical and practical implications. At a theoretical level, these works show that proxemic concepts should be studied within the environments that shape them. At a practical level, these works have implications for helping people create more functional environments.

                                                                                                                                            • Newman, Oscar. 1972. Defensible space: Crime prevention through urban design. New York: Collier.

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                                                                                                                                              The author of this book develops the thesis that housing projects in urban areas foster crime because large numbers of people live in high-rise buildings with no sense of uniqueness or territorial ownership. To deter crime, Newman argues that people need to build defensible spaces that foster a sense of community.

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                                                                                                                                              • Sommer, Robert. 1969. Personal space. The behavioral basis of design. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

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                                                                                                                                                In this seminal book that is half theory and half application, Sommer distinguishes personal space from territory and discusses how space, territory, and architecture are connected to one another and to privacy. These issues are examined in the contexts of mental hospitals, educational settings, taverns, and college dormitories. This work is informative for scholars studying proxemics as well as architects and designers.

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                                                                                                                                                Patterns of Reciprocity and Compensation

                                                                                                                                                Researchers have looked at how proxemic behaviors fit into broader patterns of reciprocity and compensation of nonverbal behavior. Reciprocity occurs when a change in one person’s behavior prompts a similar change in the partner’s behavior. Compensation occurs when a change in one person’s behavior prompts an opposite behavior by the partner. Much of the early research in this area was driven by findings showing that people compensate when their personal space is invaded, often by moving away or engaging in less eye contact.

                                                                                                                                                Compensatory Patterns

                                                                                                                                                Several studies have shown compensatory patterns of behavior that involve changes in proxemic behavior. Some compensatory patterns occur within an individual’s own pattern of communication based on proxemic distancing. For example, Johnson, et al. 1981 shows that both children and adults change their vocal intensity depending on how far away they are from someone. Other compensatory behaviors are in response to a partner’s change in proxemic behavior, such as taking a step toward someone who moves away. The studies Albas 1991 and Cappella and Greene 1984 demonstrate some other ways that people respond to changes in a partner’s proxemics behavior.

                                                                                                                                                • Albas, Cheryl. 1991. Proxemic behavior: A study of extrusion. Journal of Social Psychology 131:697–702.

                                                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1080/00224545.1991.9924653Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                  Researchers utilized experimental methods to examine how female Canadian students reacted when an interviewer retreated after establishing a comfortable conversational distance with them. Results showed that the students adjusted their proxemic behavior to find a compromise distance that was in their comfort zone.

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                                                                                                                                                  • Cappella, Joseph N., and John O. Greene. 1984. The effects of distance and individual differences in arousability on nonverbal involvement: A test of discrepancy-arousal theory. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior 8:259–286.

                                                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1007/BF00985983Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                    Researchers tested discrepancy-arousal theory by examining how high- and low-sensation seekers respond when interviewers are at close versus normative distances. They found that low-sensation seekers compensated more (by decreasing gaze and direct orientation) in the close condition than did high-sensation seekers.

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                                                                                                                                                    • Johnson, Cynthia J., Herbert L. Pick Jr., Gerald M. Siegel, Anthony W. Cicciarelli, and Sharon R. Garber. 1981. Effects of interpersonal distance on children’s vocal intensity. Child Development 52:721–723.

                                                                                                                                                      DOI: 10.2307/1129198Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                      Both children and adults increased vocal intensity based on how far away a listener was from them. There were, however, subtle differences in how children and adults accomplished this. Results show that people compensate for distance by increasing vocal intensity.

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                                                                                                                                                      Equilibrium Theory (Affiliative Conflict Theory)

                                                                                                                                                      Equilibrium theory was the first of several theories to predict patterns of reciprocity and compensation. According to the theory, as specified in Argyle and Dean 1965, people desire equilibrium in nonverbal behavior. When someone displays too little or too much intimacy, the partner will try to restore equilibrium by compensating. Proxemic patterns are commonly manipulated to induce compensation, and sometimes experiments, such as the one conducted in Patterson 1977, show that people react to changes in nonverbal intimacy by decreasing or increasing interpersonal distance or other intimacy cues, such as eye contact. Bailenson, et al. 2001 finds that this type of compensatory response also occurs in a virtual environment. Aiello and Thompson 1980 demonstrates that people not only react negatively, but they also feel uncomfortable when people interact at distances that are outside of a normative range. Finally, Sundstrom 1978 and Wada 1990 suggest that people in close relationships feel less of a need to compensate, and that people are able to adapt to changes in spatial behavior over time so that they feel less discomfort.

                                                                                                                                                      • Aiello, John R., and Donna E. Thompson. 1980. When compensation fails: Mediating effects of sex and locus of control at extended interaction distances. Basic and Applied Social Psychology 1:65–82.

                                                                                                                                                        DOI: 10.1207/s15324834basp0101_5Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                        This experiment was used to test an extension of equilibrium theory of Argyle and Dean 1965. Results support the theory in that individuals react negatively when interacting at an interpersonal distance that is outside of a normative range. While previous studies have examined how one would feel in this situation, these researchers were able to uncover how individuals actually experience this discomfort.

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                                                                                                                                                        • Argyle, Michael, and Janet Dean. 1965. Eye contact, distance, and affiliation. Sociometry 28:289–304.

                                                                                                                                                          DOI: 10.2307/2786027Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                          In this classic study, Argyle and Dean show that people balance nonverbal behaviors that signal approach and avoidance so as to maintain an appropriate level of equilibrium. For example, when people stand closer together, their eye contact tends to decrease. The equilibrium theory presented in this article provides a foundation for later theories examining patterns of nonverbal reciprocity and compensation.

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                                                                                                                                                          • Bailenson, Jeremy N., Jim Blascovich, Andrew C. Beall, and Jack M. Loomis. 2001. Equilibrium theory revisited: Mutual gaze and personal space in virtual environments. Presence: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments 10:583–598.

                                                                                                                                                            DOI: 10.1162/105474601753272844Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                            Researchers used immersive virtual environment technology to test the negative relationship between mutual gaze and interpersonal distance as posited by equilibrium theory. Results indicate that participants maintained more space around virtual humans than humans, and females maintained more distance from virtual humans who engaged them in eye contact than those who did not.

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                                                                                                                                                            • Patterson, Miles L. 1977. Interpersonal distance, affect, and equilibrium theory. Journal of Social Psychology 101:205–214.

                                                                                                                                                              DOI: 10.1080/00224545.1977.9924008Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                              Conducted a laboratory study to test equilibrium theory by seeing how people react to someone sitting next to them at various distances. As predicted, closer distances led people to compensate by reducing eye contact and using less direct body orientations. Preferences for moderate distances were confirmed in a field study.

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                                                                                                                                                              • Sundstrom, Eric. 1978. A test of equilibrium theory: Effects of topic intimacy and proximity on verbal and nonverbal behavior in pairs of friends and strangers. Environmental Psychology and Nonverbal Behavior 3:3–16.

                                                                                                                                                                DOI: 10.1007/BF01114528Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                Researchers conducted an experiment and utilized observations from female friend and stranger dyads to examine verbal and nonverbal behavior based on equilibrium theory. Results show that both friends and strangers felt discomfort and compensated during intimate discussions, yet adaptive behaviors decrease over time.

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                                                                                                                                                                • Wada, Minoru. 1990. The effects of interpersonal distance change on nonverbal behaviors: Mediating effects of sex and intimacy levels in a dyad. Japanese Psychological Research 32:86–96.

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                                                                                                                                                                  Tested equilibrium theory in the context of same-sex friendships and found that when friends were close, increases or decreases in interpersonal distance did not cause compensatory changes in eye contact or smiling. These results suggest relationship type could modify some predictions from equilibrium theory.

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                                                                                                                                                                  Expectancy Violations Theory

                                                                                                                                                                  Expectancy violations theory, as articulated in Burgoon 1978 and Burgoon and Jones 1976, was founded on ideas about how people react to personal space invasions. Rather than seeing such invasions as necessarily stress-inducing, the authors believe that the valence of a spatial violation (e.g., whether it is evaluated positively or negatively) and the reward value of the person committing the violation predict whether people react to a spatial violation with reciprocity or compensation. Burgoon and Aho 1982 confirms that valence and reward value do indeed influence responses to spatial violations. Later work on expectancy violations theory is expanded in Burgoon and Hale 1988 to include other nonverbal cues besides proxemic behaviors.

                                                                                                                                                                  • Burgoon, Judee K. 1978. A communication model of personal space violations: Explication and an initial test. Human Communication Research 4:129–142.

                                                                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2958.1978.tb00603.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                    This article presents a theory for understanding how people react to personal space violations. According to the model, people react negatively when the person who violates their space is unrewarding, and positively when the person who violates their space is rewarding. This study provides a launching point for Burgoon’s expectancy violations theory, which examines how people respond to various unexpected nonverbal behaviors including space violations.

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                                                                                                                                                                    • Burgoon, Judee K., and Lynn Aho. 1982. Three field experiments on the effects of violations of conversational distance. Communication Monographs 49:71–88.

                                                                                                                                                                      DOI: 10.1080/03637758209376073Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                      Researchers employed three experiments to extend the violations model. They found that level of interpersonal reward and conversational distance evoked differences in participant compliance and perception of interaction patterns. Results indicate that reward and personal distance effects are detectable outside of the laboratory in natural, uncontrolled environments.

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                                                                                                                                                                      • Burgoon, Judee K., and Jerold L. Hale. 1988. Nonverbal expectancy violations: Model elaboration and application to immediacy behaviors. Communications Monographs 55:58–79.

                                                                                                                                                                        DOI: 10.1080/03637758809376158Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                        Although not focused specifically on proxemics violations, this article is important because it expands the focus of expectancy violations theory to include other behaviors, such as smiling and eye contact. By taking a more holistic view, researchers can see how proxemic behaviors work along other behaviors to create patterns of reciprocity and compensation.

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                                                                                                                                                                        • Burgoon, Judee K., and Stephen B. Jones. 1976. Toward a theory of personal space expectations and their violations. Human Communication Research 2:131–146.

                                                                                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2958.1976.tb00706.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                          Authors of this article lay the foundation for expectancy violations theory by reviewing the proxemic literature on personal space violations and advancing propositions and sample hypotheses for the theory.

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                                                                                                                                                                          Group Interaction

                                                                                                                                                                          In addition to examining how proxemics operate in relationships, some scholars have looked at proxemic communication in groups. This research shows that people often have to negotiate spatial norms among group members. Other times group members work together to preserve spatial zones and territories. Burgoon 1992 provides an overview of some of these issues. Terneus and Malone 2004 and Cheyne and Efran 1972 investigate how personal space and distancing function within group interaction, whereas Costa 2010 examines interpersonal distancing in walking groups.

                                                                                                                                                                          • Burgoon, Judee K. 1992. Spatial relationships in small groups. In Small group communication: A reader. 6th ed. Edited by Robert S. Cathcart and Larry A. Samovar, 287–300. Dubuque, IA: Wm. C. Brown.

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                                                                                                                                                                            Provides an overview of how proxemics operate in the context of small group communication, including meeting spaces. Distancing and environmental features are taken into account.

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                                                                                                                                                                            • Cheyne, James A., and Michael G. Efran. 1972. The effect of spatial and interpersonal variables on the invasion of group controlled territories. Sociometry 35:477–489.

                                                                                                                                                                              DOI: 10.2307/2786507Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                              Researchers examined intrusion in group-shared spaces with a focus on group composition, activity, and use of space. Results of two experiments indicate that interaction distance within a group can cue others to the nature of that interaction, and can subsequently alter the path of a potentially intrusive person. This finding extends Hall’s work (see Hall 1973 and Hall 1990 cited under Foundational Texts) on interaction distances to individuals who are not directly involved in the interaction.

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                                                                                                                                                                              • Costa, Marco. 2010. Interpersonal distances in group walking. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior 34:15–26.

                                                                                                                                                                                DOI: 10.1007/s10919-009-0077-ySave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                This study extends Hall’s work (see Hall 1990 cited under Foundational Texts) on interpersonal distances to include spatial arrangement during group walking. Videos with over one thousand groups walking on sidewalks in urban settings were viewed. Results show that group size, group composition, and group member similarity can lead to different spatial arrangements such as walking abreast versus walking scattered, according to number of individuals and gender within a group.

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                                                                                                                                                                                • Terneus, Sandra K., and Yvonne Malone. 2004. Proxemics and kinesics of adolescents in dual-gender groups. Guidance & Counseling 19:118–123.

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                                                                                                                                                                                  Through field observations, researchers demonstrate how adolescent males and females react to personal space within a group. They also indicate standards of appropriate behavior regarding positioning and distancing of adolescent individuals as related to the group interactions.

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                                                                                                                                                                                  Technology and Computer-Mediated Communication

                                                                                                                                                                                  A new area of research focuses on how proxemics functions in technology and computer-mediated communication. This research has shown that some of the proxemic norms that are present in face-to-face interaction are also present in computer-mediated communication. Yee and Bailenson 2007 calls this the Proteus effect. An earlier work, Bailenson, et al. 2001, shows that this effect holds for interpersonal distancing. Lomanowska and Guitton 2012 also looked at interpersonal distancing, but in relation to how avatars group together, whereas Wieser, et al. 2010 examine patterns of avoidance. Finally, research in this area, including Huxley and Paterson 2006, has also looked at ways to make people feel like there is less distance between them when computing via technology.

                                                                                                                                                                                  • Bailenson, Jeremy N., Jim Blascovich, Andrew C. Beall, and Jack M. Loomis. 2001. Equilibrium theory revisited: Mutual gaze and personal space in virtual environments. Presence: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments 10:583–598.

                                                                                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1162/105474601753272844Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                    This study is important because researchers show that the virtual world mirrors the real world. Compared to people who are assigned less attractive avatars, people who are assigned attractive avatars stand close to other avatars in virtual space. This is similar to what happens in face-to-face contexts when attractive people feel freer to stand close to people they meet than do unattractive people.

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                                                                                                                                                                                    • Huxley, Aldous, and Mark Paterson. 2006. Feel the presence: Technologies of touch and distance. Environment & Planning D: Society and Space 24:690–708.

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                                                                                                                                                                                      Authors of this critical investigation explore new technologies that help people bridge distance during computer-mediated interaction, including observations about how the spatial divide can be overcome to some extent by technologies that promote haptic contact and provide communicators with a sense of co-presence or immersion.

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                                                                                                                                                                                      • Lomanowska, Anna M., and Matthieu J. Guitton. 2012. Spatial proximity to others determines how humans inhabit virtual worlds. Computers in Human Behavior 28:318–323.

                                                                                                                                                                                        DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2011.09.015Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                        Authors used Second Life as a model to examine how people manage interindividual distance in a virtual world. Second Life is a 3-D virtual world where people can interact using avatars. Findings indicate that humans inhabit virtual worlds through spatial proximity to others. Specifically, aggregation toward multiple avatars grouped in common regions was observed independent of population density, yet a large proportion of avatars were also found to be physically isolated from others.

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                                                                                                                                                                                        • Wieser, Matthias J., Paul Pauli, Miriam Grosseibl, Ina Molzow, and Andreas Mühlberger. 2010. Virtual social interactions in social anxiety: The impact of sex, gaze, and interpersonal distance. CyberPsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking 13:547–554.

                                                                                                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1089/cyber.2009.0432Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                          Researchers utilized a virtual-reality environment to examine avoidance behavior and fear reactions of participants in response to approaching male and female virtual characters. Results indicated patterns of avoidance by socially anxious females, such as lack of gaze contact and backward head movements, when avatars used direct gaze or were standing far away. Implications of results in conjunction with future directions for using virtual-reality in therapy settings were discussed.

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                                                                                                                                                                                          • Yee, Nick, and Jeremy Bailenson. 2007. The Proteus effect: The effect of transformed self-representation on behavior. Human Communication Research 33:271–290.

                                                                                                                                                                                            DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2958.2007.00299.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                            Results showed that people sometimes act similarly in virtual worlds and real life. In this case, people assigned more attractive avatars were more likely to approach and stand close to avatars of the opposite sex in a virtual world.

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                                                                                                                                                                                            Persuasion, Compliance, and Sales

                                                                                                                                                                                            Research has shown that proxemic cues, such as distancing, can influence how persuasive someone is. Standing close to someone can also influence whether that person complies with a request or helps someone. For example, Segrin 1993 shows that close distancing promotes compliance, and Hashimoto and Borders 2005 demonstrates that close distancing enhances favorable impressions of salespeople. However, Smith and Knowles 1979 demonstrates that, in situations involving pedestrians and street artists, normative distancing produces the most helping behavior; Glick, et al. 1988 identifies situations involving out-group members, where larger distancing leads to more compliance. This type of research has implications for political candidates, salespeople, and others.

                                                                                                                                                                                            • Glick, Peter, Judith A. DeMorest, and Carla A. Hotze. 1988. Keeping your distance: Group membership, personal space, and requests for small favors. Journal of Applied Social Psychology 18:315–330.

                                                                                                                                                                                              DOI: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.1988.tb00019.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                              Researchers conducted a field experiment to look at how group membership and interpersonal distance affect anxiety; compliance with a small request was also explored. Results suggest that out-group members can reduce anxiety and increase compliance by using larger distances when approaching potential helpers.

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                                                                                                                                                                                              • Hashimoto, Kathryn, and Aberdeen L. Borders. 2005. Proxemics and its effect on travelers during the sales contact in hotels. Journal of Travel and Tourism Marketing 18:49–61.

                                                                                                                                                                                                DOI: 10.1300/J073v18n03_05Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                Researchers examine how conversational distances influence expected satisfaction with a new service provided by a salesperson. When sales interactions take place in the close distance zone, buyers initial perceptions of the salesperson are enhanced.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                • Segrin, Chris. 1993. The effects of nonverbal behavior on outcomes of compliance gaining attempts. Communication Studies 44:169–187.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1080/10510979309368393Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                  This meta-analysis includes eight studies that investigated the effects of interpersonal distancing on compliance. The average effect size across these studies is 0.18, which means that about 18% of the variability in how much a person complies can be explained by interpersonal distancing. Segrin concludes that closer distances tend to facilitate compliance unless the requestor gets so close that he or she violates proxemic norms.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                  • Smith, Robert J., and Eric S. Knowles. 1979. Affective and cognitive mediators of reactions to spatial invasions. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 15:437–452.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1016/0022-1031(79)90007-6Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                    Researchers conducted an experiment to test reactions to confederates who posed either as artists or not, and who stood either close or far from a pedestrian. When the confederate dropped a pen, pedestrians were most likely to help if the confederate was an artist standing at an appropriate distance. Non-artists standing at a close distance were helped less and judged more negatively.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                    Support and Comfort

                                                                                                                                                                                                    Close interpersonal distancing can comfort someone in a time of pain or crisis. Peterson, et al. 2007 and Rebouças, et al. 2012 show how touch is used in health-related contexts. Distancing is also related to empathy, as Roberts 1997 illustrates. One reason that distancing is so important is that, when people are close to others, they can touch them more easily, which is a primary mode for expressing comfort and social support. Indeed, two studies, Bullis and Horn 1995 and Dolin and Booth-Butterfield 1993, demonstrate that a relatively large percentage of people report using close distancing and other proxemic cues when comforting a distressed person.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    • Bullis, Connie, and Charlotte Horn. 1995. Get a little closer: Further examination of nonverbal comforting strategies. Communication Reports 8:10–117.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      DOI: 10.1080/08934219509367602Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                      People reported how they would comfort a friend who was visibly upset. Proxemic behaviors, such as sitting closer to the distressed person, were reported by over 26 percent of the participants. Only hugs and attentiveness were reported more frequently, which shows how important proxemics is in the comforting process.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Dolin, Danielle J., and Melanie Booth-Butterfield. 1993. Reach out and touch someone: Analysis of nonverbal comforting responses. Communication Quarterly 41:383–393.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        DOI: 10.1080/01463379309369899Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                        In this study on how college students would comfort a roommate distressed over a breakup, close distancing is the comforting strategy mentioned the second most, behind only hugs. Indeed, over 40 percent of subjects said that they would sit close to their roommate as a way to comfort him or her, which suggests that close distancing is a primary way to comfort others.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Peterson, Amy M., Rebecca J. Cline, Tanina S. Foster, et al. 2007. Parents’ interpersonal distance and touch behavior and child pain and distress during painful pediatric oncology procedures. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior 31:79–97.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1007/s10919-007-0023-9Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                          During clinical visits, most parents stood at a personal distance (1 to 3 feet) from their child for most of the visit, but then moved into the intimate distance zone (less than 1 foot away) during the actual procedure. Close distancing is theorized to be important because it allows parents to touch their child readily, which reduces stress and pain.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                          • Rebouças, Cristiana, Simone de Souza Paiva, Enia Costa, Ivana C. V. Lima, Lorita M. F. Pagliuca, and Marli T. G. Galvão. 2012. Proxemic communication between HIV-infected mother-child pairs. British Journal of Nursing 21:1098–1101.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            DOI: 10.12968/bjon.2012.21.18.1098Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                            In this experiment, researchers observed proxemic factors and affectionate exchanges in HIV-infected mother-child pairs. It was found that mothers use strategies such as increasing proximity with their child to promote the exchange of affection while engaged in maternal care.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                            • Roberts, Janet S. W. 1997. Children’s personal distance and their empathy: Indices of interpersonal closeness. International Journal of Behavioral Development 20:385–403.

                                                                                                                                                                                                              DOI: 10.1080/016502597385199Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                              Researchers examined how situational and dispositional empathy is associated with preferred interpersonal distancing. Children placed photos of people closer to themselves when they reported giving and receiving more situational empathy with that person. Dispositional empathy was not associated with interpersonal distancing.

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